Passing Here and There

Passing Here and There

Why you should care

Racial cleansing is alive and as stupid as ever. 

Here in ’Murica this week, we’ve spent a lot of time parsing the race of one Rachel Dolezal, debating worthy questions like whether race is biological or socially constructed, and who gets to decide what color one is, whether there is such a thing as “transracial,” and whether, even, being Black is a hair thing. These are important questions, but hey: Could we please look for a moment, 700 miles south of Florida, where an identity and race-based pogrom might be talking place?

This week, the Dominican Republic announced that undocumented residents would be subject to deportation. In the DR, “undocumented residents” means, basically: people born in Haiti, people born in the DR to Haitian parents, even people suspected of having Haitian blood in their veins. One drop, maybe. It’s pretty freaky. By some counts, there are more than half a million undocumented people in the DR, so we’re talking about mass deportations. There is painful history here. In 1937, the Dominican government, in the mood for a cleanse, chased the Haitian workers over the border, killing as many as 30,000 along the way.

Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, poses for a photo in her Spokane, Wash. home.

Rachel Dolezal, former president of the NAACP’s chapter in Spokane, Wash.

Source Colin Mulvany/AP

There has always been much mixing between Dominicans and Haitians — the countries share the same small island of Hispaniola — so policing race and nationality there is difficult. Last year, we wrote about one Dominican woman, Deisy Toussaint, who won a national literary award that included a state invitation to travel to Cuba for a literary fair. She needed a passport, but when she went to apply, she was told she couldn’t get one because of her “Haitian name.” She thought it was a joke. It was not.

During the 1937 massacre, the Dominicans found a way to tell Haitians apart from Dominicans: Hold up some parsley and ask the subject to pronounce its name. It’s perejil in Spanish, but native Creole speakers usually can’t get the trill in the “r” right.

Read about Deisy Toussaint here, Haitian writers here and a wonderful Haitian-American cellist here.

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